Angel Pitcher Has Spent Nine Months Battling Back From a Shoulder Injury : Forsch Plans to Be Ready

Times Staff Writer

Angel infielder Rick Burleson's long recovery from a torn rotator cuff has been lengthened by a dislocated shoulder. Pitcher Ken Forsch learned of his teammate's setback in the papers. He was saddened, and puzzled. Forsch dislocated his own right shoulder last April 7 while making his second start of the season. He did not make another. It has only been in the last month, in fact, that his uncertainty has given way to optimism, to a feeling that he will be able to go to spring training ready to reclaim his berth in a pitching rotation in desperate need of proven arms. "I hope Burly is right when he says he'll be back by May," Forsch said. "It's been nine months for me--and my shoulder popped right in after it had popped out. Maybe his overall damage won't be as severe as mine was." Forsch was sitting at his locker in a nearly empty Angel clubhouse, having just completed a workout at Anaheim Stadium. He was asked if there was any advice he could give Burleson. "I don't have to offer him advice because I've never seen anyone work harder," he said. "He's got the mental toughness that few people have. This is just a shame because I had seen him throw and he was back. He was ready." Forsch now believes that he, too, will be ready, a providential bonus for a rotation that includes only Mike Witt, Ron Romanick and Geoff Zahn as certain starters. "I don't want to go to spring training as a special case, as a guy still on rehabilitation," he said. "I want to be part of the regular program, and right now it looks like I'll be able to do that. "I'm really optimistic about the progress I've made in the last month. It's almost amazing. It's almost a little scary, particularly when I look at what happened to Burleson and consider what I've been through." Forsch spent three weeks with his right arm tied to his side, atrophy attacking the muscles. The dislocation was compounded by a minor rotator cuff tear and the fact that a 38-year-old body does not heal as quickly as one of 28. Now, the 14-year veteran is back to throwing from the mound on Mondays and Fridays, and throwing on the side on days in between. "It's hard for me to say where I'm at, but there's no pain and I'm throwing with a lot of pop," he said. "The last couple times I've had the feeling I could throw two innings, maybe three. "It's a far cry from last summer, when I'd play catch with my daughter and she'd have better stuff than I did. It was pathetic, the pits. I've had sore arms before, but this was so bad that it would take my breath away when I tried to throw. "The thought that my career might be finished was always there. I wouldn't see any progress for all the work I was putting in and the temptation was to say, 'What's the point?' It was like a constant whisper. I had to block it out, close my mind to it. "Now I've reached a point where it's hard for me to sleep at night, knowing I'm going to work out the next day. I know now I have a chance. There's an excitement in being back on the mound, knowing I'm getting ready for spring training. I can feel it building again." Forsch has come back before from injuries to his ankle, shoulder, elbow, knee and hand. The latest rehabilitation has reminded him of the necessity to take it only a day at a time. "There were two low points," Forsch said, citing the discovery of the rotator cuff tear and the realization in August that he wouldn't be back to help the Angels in September. He understands that even now his optimism must be tempered. "Physically, I feel good, but I still have to go through the mental phase," he said. "I've been this route before. As much as your heart wants you to let go, something in the subconscious says, 'Whoa! Careful.' There's still the uncertainty of how it will be under the pressure of a game situation when I have to cut loose. "It's as if I'm still living on the edge. I still feel I have to push myself to continue to make progress, but I can't risk overdoing it like Burly may have done. It's a tough line for me and I tend to give the trainers fits. If I can work with 10 pound weights, I want to know why it can't be 12 or 15 pounds. If I can throw for 30 minutes, why not 35? "This has been a period of real turmoil for me, but I feel I've given it my best shot. Weight work and resistance exercises have allowed Forsch to overcome significant damage to the protective capsule in his right shoulder. The manner in which he suffered the injury is indicative of his competitive fire. Forsch had defeated Boston, 2-1, with a six-hitter on opening night last year. Then, in the eighth inning of his next start against Toronto, he raced off the mound to field Willie Upshaw's slow grounder, hit to the right side. Forsch's momentum carried him toward first base, where he made a head-first dive. He landed on his right elbow, the impact jamming his shoulder out of its socket. He left immediately, his season over. The Angels, who failed to secure a quality replacement for Forsch, lost more than a game. "I can't tell you how many times I've been asked about that play," Forsch said Wednesday. "My wife still asks me about it and my only answer is that I'd do it again the same way. If I'm not going to be competitive, if I'm not going to do everything I can to get that one out and win a game, I'm not going to be around for 14 years." The chances that Forsch will be around for a 15th seem to be improving.

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